Democracy is so overrated, according to the Twitter bio of the Netflix show @HouseofCards, which has 1.7 million followers. That’s almost one follower for every column inch the political drama collected as its fifth season debuted last week.

It’s also fewer followers than the official accounts for Game of Thrones (5.4 million), The Big Bang Theory (4.4 million), Pretty Little Liars (4.1 million), Grey’s Anatomy (3.8 million) and quite a few other programmes not made by Netflix.

Social media popularity is a far from a perfect proxy for actual viewership, or even a useful or accurate one. The only reason to mention it at all is because proper data for Netflix shows is as elusive as a straight answer from Theresa May.

There are no official ratings for House of Cards or any Netflix originals. The company sometimes offers quasi-information, such as which shows are watched at breakfast and which are binged at bedtime, while the falling axe on Sense8 and The Get Down is as clear an indicator as any that these shows have underperformed.

But like Amazon Prime – which apparently didn’t even tell Jeremy Clarkson how many people watched The Grand Tour – Netflix never releases pure audience numbers. Because it has no advertisers, it is not obliged to share viewing data with a soul. To shareholders, it insists the important metric is subscriber numbers, and these continue to swell.

Tight lips

Netflix’s tight lips don’t stop others from being curious. Several audience research companies have taken stabs at estimating how many viewers its original shows attract. Some use social mentions as a predictor of success – one company, Ticker Tags, has forecast an acceleration in second-quarter US subscriber growth based on nothing more than the social buzz around controversial teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why.


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